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Group wants Philly teacher, principal reforms

A newly-formed umbrella group of many of the city’s leading education nonprofits hopes to affect the upcoming Philadelphia teachers’ contract.
The “Coalition for Effective Teaching,” made up of the Aspira Association, Congreso de Latinos Unidos, Education Voters of Pennsylvania, Public Citizens for Children and Youth, and the Urban League of Greater Philadelphia, has studied the current Philadelphia Federation of Teachers contract and is today announcing recommendations for changes, both for teachers and the Philadelphia School District management.
The Coalition says this is a critical moment for Philadelphia, an “opportunity to adopt reforms that will improve the capacity of the district’s teachers and principals to make a more signifcant contribution to student success and achievement.”
The highlights of what the Coalition is recommending for the PFT contract, which expires in August:
--The group believes that “the district should not have to ask its employees to reduce their pay to balance the district budget.” That’s key, because the district’s opening proposal recommended pay cuts of up to 13 percent, plus benefit contributions of that much.  Instead, the group says, “more funds must be made available to the district to enable it to attract and retain high achieving staff.” There’s no explanation as to where those funds might come from, but the district has said that it will request $120 million more from the state and $60 million more from the city - and those numbers assume big givebacks in the contract already.
--The group believes that class size should not increase, but that exceptions should be made for “blended learning” opportunities - instances when classroom instruction is combined with online or other innovative forms of instruction. This should only be done “to increase student access to high quality courses and instruction.”
--It also recommends the elimination of seniority-based hiring. That is, a move to universal site-selection, the process now in place in some instances in the district that allows principals and their teams to hire the teachers they feel are a good fit for the school, rather than teachers choosing from open positions by seniority, with no principal input.  “This will ensure that in all cases, the teacher is a good fit on the school’s instructional team,” the group says.  Similarly, the group wants to end any transfer/rehiring policies that now overrule the decisions of site selection committees. This would eliminate seniority rules governing staff reductions.
--The group believes that a teacher’s pay should only be increased for new degrees and certifications “in cases where research demonstrates that the degree correlates to gains in student achievement.”  It also wants to create new pay grades rewarding teachers who move into teacher leader positions, to bolster professional development.
--Outside of the contract, the group also recommends changes it wants the disrict to effect, including implementing “an effective principal evaluation program.”  It also wants management to find more money to reward principals deemed effective on multiple evaluation measures, including school safety.  It also wants the district to be able to remove ineffective principals.
--The group also wants the district to help develop better teacher evaluation skills, and to “create the expectation that all teachers be evaluated fairly and honestly so that they clearly understand their strengths and areas in which they might improve.”
--The group also calls for principals to be held more accountable for keeping their schools safe. It calls for the district to tie safety to principal evaluations, and in the district’s toughest schools, require principals to adopt “proven practices” to calm violence and promote a positive school climate.  Under the coalition’s proposal, principals who haven’t shown progress in making their schools safer would be removed.
--The group wants the district to attract and keep the best teachers and principals.  It acknowledges that fixes have been attempted in the past decade, “yet the improvements are not substantial enough to ensure that Philadelphia can successfully hire the best teachers and principals.” It wants the district to rely on expert organizations to devise a plan for recruitment of “promising teachers of diverse backgrounds.” New teachers should get better orientation and a full year of coaching, as well as stronger teacher training.
--To bolster public confidence in these reforms, the group calls on the School Reform Commission to “adopt a meaningful process for tracking progress on these reforms that provides for regular public reports.”
More from the group’s formal announcement, scheduled for 1 p.m., soon.